Madeira, m'dear?

Mon 10 Oct 2005 13:46
(Nowhere to upload pictures here, so Tim's ramblings will have to suffice for now...)
It's Sunday night and we've just finished supper. Anna and Eddie are moving slowly towards their bunks. Penny is in the cockpit drinking a glass of wine. Earlier, the children plus their friends Otti and Mimi from Sarah Grace put on a puppet show for the parents plus Mike and Angie from Lady of Lorien and Pat from Sleepy Shores. Co-written by Anna and Otti, it involved Astro Pete, the Spaceman and his dog Ukelele. (It is a fact known to relatively few that the ukelele was invented on Madeira.) The grown-ups were allowed interval drinks throughout the production.
It has been raining today and continuing to blow from the East and South. This is not what should be happening and is the result of a low pressure system coming up from the Cape Verdes. We shall wait for the more typical Northerlies to re-establish themselves before we head for the Canaries. We hope that will be Tuesday morning. We've decided not to stop on the way at the Salvage Islands (where Captain Kidd is said to have buried his treasure). That's a bit whimpy but it makes the trip shorter and we've no proper charts for the islands and none of the other boats here and heading South want to go there. If we leave on Tuesday morning we should get to Graciosa, one of the North East Canaries, on Thursday evening. It's about 290 miles. The forecast is for not much wind but there'll be waves left over from the blow of the past few days so it's not likely to be a very comfortable run.
For the last 12 days we've been in a marina in a place called Calheta towards the West end of the South coast of the island. A couple of years ago Madeira only had one very crowded marina in the capital, Funchal and visiting yachts often stayed in Porto Santo and crews took the ferry to Madeira. But three new marinas have been built in the last year or so. We stayed in one - at Quinta da Lorde at the East end of the island - when we first arrived but the lack of protection from the wind curving round the headland and the temporary, squat toilets (not encountered since French camping holidays in the 1980s) drove us out after a couple of days.
We sailed past Funchal (which is still very full) to Calheta. When they built the marina here they also built a beach out of sand from Morocco. (Madeira has almost no natural beaches). And the children have enjoyed playing there. There's a hotel between the marina and the beach with a supermarket and a few other shops behind. There's a hairdressers where we'll get Eddie's hair cut tomorrow. Along the marina there are a couple of bars, a restaurant and several yet-to-be-filled shop units. Above the whole place towers a browny, grey volcanic cliff some three or four hundred feet high. Some sort of soaring birds wheel around the top of the cliff and make a very strange cackling noise in the evening. 
Yesterday, I was sitting in the cockpit reading Anna's copy of Northern Lights (like you do) when a small bit of the cliff fell down. It wasn't much more than a couple of lorry-loads of rocks and stones but it made a bit of a mess of one of the bars and has meant the road being blocked off since. I watched one rock about the size of a spacehopper bounce over the bar terrace down onto the marina side and into the water. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Pat and Brendan from Sleepy Shores had been in the bar minutes before. It was scary, said Anna. She thought it sounded like loads of glass bottles smashing together. We are moored on the other side of the marina about 200 yards from the fall. The nice lady receptionist in the hotel said there were always rock-falls after the first rain of the winter. Penny observed that it would have been novel had our trip been halted by a rock hitting the boat rather than the other way round. 
The marina is also not very well designed to stop waves from a South Easterly wind getting in and making the boats bounce about against the pontoons. We currently have nine ropes out (an old one snapped earlier). Sleepy Shores has thirteen and looks more like a spider. The movement made it hard to sleep last night but the wind is dropping and it looks as though tonight will be better. Getting the boat balanced between all the lines is quite an art and if the wind does change, I'll have to get up and loosen some and tighten others. We're also going to have to buy some more springy warps. An unoccupied British yacht at the end of the pontoon pulled out a fairlead and damaged a staunchion last night. A motor boat opposite us (100k's worth, I would guess) has been bashing her stern so hard there's now a gap opening up between the hull and deck mouldings. I shall be glad to get away from all this weather and South to some climate. You can't really predict these things, but I reckon if we'd moved South about a week earlier than we have, we'd have not seen rain since Falmouth.     
We've not spent our whole time here on the beach. We hired a car for a few days. We went into Funchal, which is a big place - pop 120k and bustling with socked-and-sandalled British and German tourists - but ok. We went to the famous fruit, veg and flower market, on the cable car that goes up above the city to the botanical gardens and round a new interactive museum. One exhibit was a sea plane ticket: Southampton to Funchal and return £89 - in 1953! I also found a chandlery in which to buy paint and rope.
Another day we took the car to a place called Rabacal for a walk along one of the levadas - the irrigation channels that run round most of the mountains. We've seen the same sort of thing near Granada in Spain and a lot of these are also said to have been built by Arab engineers in the fifteenth century. They are amazingly well constructed - just inclined enough for the water to run down but not for it to run too fast when there's a downpour. A good flat path runs alongside most of them and the children really enjoyed walking it. The actual labour was done by African slaves, who also worked the sugar plantations. You'd have thought there would be some black population left, but there isn't.      
We drove over the top of the island. After the very steep climb up from the coast, it gets flat and covered with heather. The day we went the cloud was beneath the peak so it was all bathed in sunshine - a bit like Scotland with decent weather. It was also the first day of the hunting season and there were lots of locals with guns and dogs after (we think) rabbits.  
There are a lot of new roads in Madeira and it's easy to drive around the island. You don't see a lot because you tend either to be in a tunnel or on a viaduct but it makes getting about very easy. There appears generally to have been an immense amount of investment in the island in the last few years. There's a brand new arts centre in the older part of Calheta village that would shame most large English towns. They've got a couple of exhibitions on plus a season of Stanley Kubrick films. I was tempted to drag the children to 2001, but thought better of it. There's even a Radio Calheta.       
We didn't go to the Madeira wine lodge but have tried a couple of bottles of the local brew. We like the dryer Sercial. The local bannanas are a lot sweeter than the more familiar South American varieties and the fish, of course, is good. Penny and I had a delicious fish stew in a restaurant near the marina.
We also spent a lovely afternoon in the park overlooking Funchal harbour celebrating the Blue Marlin twin's sixth birthday. We ate pizza and drank beer. It was a Saturday and various wedding parties were going on around us in the park. The day ended with us all linking arms and singing a Scandinavian 'goodbye' song. 
Routine jobs take up the rest of the time. Penny and the children are doing a couple of hours of school most weekdays. I do things like engine maintenance, repairing the odd small thing that has bust and fitting some of the things we didn't get time to fit before we left. Cleaning the boat, laundry, cooking and washing-up take up a lot of the rest of the time. We're also stocking up on food and water while we've a supermarket within short walking distance. It's not all a thrill a minute but we're settling into a good enough routine. As Penny has said elsewhere, arriving is great - and it's about time we did a bit more of it.